Molly’s Game is a neat, tidy, snappily scripted and fairly reserved production. There are no high-octane action sequences, no CGI special effects and no sexual scenes. What this film offers instead is a clever, true and interesting story of one woman’s life.
Who is Molly Bloom?
Molly Bloom was a high-achieving child, mercilessly driven by her father to succeed in anything she did. Jessica Chastain plays the titular role, and plays it with just the right amount of verve. Molly comes across as highly intelligent, adaptable and competitive.
Crucially, though, she is also very kind. This fact costs her dearly when she is being prosecuted for running the biggest illegal poker game in America because she protects her players. The FBI offer her a deal to save her own skin but that would destroy their lives.
She refuses, and suffers as a result of it. But I’m acting out of turn, that’s towards the end of the film. Mostly it’s a film about poker. The people that play it, the passion behind it, the damage it can do. It also highlights the intricacies and subtleties of the game really well.
So just how good at poker is the heroine of Molly’s Game?
Well now, Molly Bloom is that cleverest of poker enthusiasts: She never plays a hand. Not for her the vagaries of the downswing and bad beat, no, instead she runs the game. She is the ‘house’, responsible for keeping track of the money, paying out wins, and ensuring that everyone is so comfortable, so happy, that they continue playing for longer.
There are a number of detailed breakdowns of plays and strategies, told in a ‘Goodfellas’-type descriptive with some nicely shot details of the hands and depictions of the players motivations. For me, as a long-time lover of poker, it made for compelling viewing.
A symptom of such a high-stakes, perfectly hosted high-end poker game is that it attracts the very rich, and the very dodgy. Sadly for Molly’s Game, the FBI’s list of persons of extreme interest include film stars, old-money heirs and Russian mobsters. Molly Bloom is the link between them all.
So Molly’s Game is about questionable morals?
If Molly Blooms life had gone according to plan, Molly’s Game should have been about mogul skiing. She was at an international standard in her youth before a one-in-a-million accident left her unable to compete.
Taking a year out to re-evaluate and in the random nature of life she falls first into a PA job with an obnoxious millionaire, and then into running a high-stakes poker game for his friends. Initially completely ignorant of the nuts and bolts of the game, true to her drive to succeed she quickly teaches herself to be indispensable.
She never takes a wage or charges for the night, the house never takes a rake (a percentage of every hand to cover debts), instead she makes a lot of money purely by accepting tips from every player. In this way she becomes the ‘Poker Princess’ of America.
Is Molly’s Game worth a punt then?
With sterling performances from Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner (well cast as Molly’s father) and Idris Elba (as Molly’s quick-talking lawyer) I would say Molly’s Game has definitely ‘got it in good’.
It’s played tightly, straight-faced, and with minimal bluff. For those that love the game, it’s an excellent portrayal of the characters and motivations of that world, and for those that don’t it’s an intriguing window into how someone who, on paper, is one of life’s winners can come spectacularly unstuck.
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